Sunday, November 8, 2009

Celebrating the Defeat of the Opponents of Health Reform

Last night, late on November 7, 2009, HR 3962, the health reform bill jointly worked out by 3 House committees, passed the House by the narrow margin of 220-215. All Republicans but one (Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana) plus 39 Democrats voted against it. This is reason enough to be glad that it passed, despite the limitations of the bill itself. It did not come so close because of progressives concerned about those limitations voting against it; it came so close because there are so many in Congress who are opposed to any improvement in the access to health care for the American people. It is important that they were defeated, even if by a slim margin, because they are voices for an untenable and unjust status quo.

The bill that passed the House is not a good health reform plan on the face of it. It will leave millions of Americans uninsured. It will not provide a significant limit on the ability of insurance companies to profit from the health problems of our people. A wise and clear analysis of the limitations of the bill is provided by John Geyman, MD, Professor and Chair Emeritus of Family Medicine at the University of Washington and author of the official blog of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). In his piece Health Care Reform 2009: No Bill is Better than a Bad Bill, he makes the case that it should not pass. PNHP’s official position before the vote was: “We have been asked how to tell members to vote on the House bill. Our response is that the bill is ‘like aspirin for breast cancer’.” I agree with their analysis of the bill, and still hope (but am not optimistic) that a better bill will eventually emerge from conference, but have to disagree that it would have been better for it to have been defeated, because that would not have been seen as a victory for progressives, but rather have been a victory for the forces of darkness.

Herb Freeman, a long-time social activist and observer (and a close relative), writes:
Because of the tenor of the health bill discussion in the House today [November 7] on C-span, and after receiving an e-mail showing what cost of living and earnings were in the US 100 years ago, I started to Google how and when other changes were made. In looking up information on other federally-mandated social modifications (or improvements), such as abolition of child labor (1938), compulsory public education (early 1900s), fair labor standards (especially the 40-hour week, 1938) and food standards and examination, I came across some surprising things:
Wikipedia mostly quotes libertarian approaches to public education as destructive to the "educable" and wasteful to the "others."
The impact of the 40-hour week is largely negated by 12-hour work days, elimination of overtime after an 8-hour day, partially because of the lack of a national health plan, which makes insurance too expensive for employers and partially from lost vacations to compensate from static wages.
I reviewed the arguments made, both at the time of passage and to this day, against 68 or more laws that protect people from gross exploitation as workers, and they are exactly what I heard today on C-Span for several hours on the health bill from these dinosaurs from Texas, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Utah, etc.”

The cruel and vicious racist and classist arguments that were made against child labor laws and a 40-hour week and fair wages, that were based in ideas that some people were “educable” and others were not, that exploitation was ok, are the same ones we heard in the health care debate. They were evil and wrong back then, and they are evil and wrong now. The laws that Mr. Freeman refers to, which offer some protection for workers, have indeed been eroded, but to the extent that they exist, and that there is a strong belief on the part of most people that they are good things, help to protect against the worst of exploitation. Many of them also passed, in their day, by narrow margins. I think that the importance of passing HR 3962 was that, by a narrow majority in the House (representing, of course, a much larger majority in the country, that of the people who are not rich or corporations to give money to congresspeople), is that it rejected the narrow-minded selfishness and toadying-to-their-wealthy-benefactors of its opponents

I am not optimistic that the Senate bill will be better (Professor Leonard Rodberg, PhD, Chair of Urban Studies at Queens College/CUNY, describes in Don McCanne’s Quote of the Day how the current plan is bad (he calls it a DOG, but I like my dogs!) or that there will be much improvement in the bill that comes out of conference. It is very unfortunate that there is not a single-payer plan, and that Rep. Anthony Weiner’s single-payer plan was not brought to a vote. I still hope that the proposal by Rep. Dennis Kucinich to allow states to pilot single-payer programs (which passed the committee with support from even some Republicans) may yet happen. Single payer got much further along in the debate than the administration and leadership, which tried to kill it at the beginning of the debate, hoped.

But the most important point is that, whatever, the content of the bill, on this one night, by a narrow margin, a bill passed that says the American people should have access to health care, whatever its limitations in actually providing for it, passed, and it passed over the opposition of those who only support legislation that benefits the privileged minority, and opposed, as they have always opposed, programs that benefit all of our people. I celebrate their defeat.

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